Get a femto cell for mobile phone dead zones

December 10th, 2006

mobile phoneOn GigaOM, Allan Leinwand posts (Can personal cellular sites boost cell service) about a proposed solution to a common problem with mobile telephony: dead zones.

Mobile operators are on the verge of asking you to help them solve one of their biggest problems – how to get more signal strength where you need or want it most. Their plan? Allow end users to buy personal devices that act like Wi-Fi routers, providing nearby cellular bandwidth in hard-to-reach places like offices and homes.

Even though I live in the midst of the Baltimore-DC megalopolis, my neighborhood doesn’t get acceptable cell service from any provider. We live along a river valley with steep hills of solid granite on either side. I have to go to the second floor of one corner of my house to get even a roaming signal. This is the main reason why I don’t make more ubiquitous use my mobile phone — you can only reach me on it about half of the time.

I could sure use a femto cell at home.

These next type of cell sites, named femto cellular (femto being smaller than pico, the term used by mobile operators that refers to smaller cell sites) are setting out to solve carriers’ often-expensive problem of providing complete coverage. … The forthcoming femto solution? Having end-users buy a small femto device, similar in concept to a Wi-Fi access point, that is a personal cellular site. The femto cellular device has a cellular antenna to boost the available signal as well as an Internet connection. The device uses your Internet connection to connect to your mobile provider’s’ network and route your phone calls.

Here’s a femto access point one that is already for sale, though I think this is marketed to mobile service providers rather than end users.

I’m not sure how these differ from cellular signal repeaters. But I have the impression that those tend to be expensive and marketed to the owners of large facilities who want their employees to have service deep inside their buildings where as the femo cell will be affordable by a single customer. If the femto cells allow for an external antenna, I might just get to use my mobile phone at home.